In a bid to tackle its record air pollution, Delhi has banned cars from travelling on alternate days over the first two weeks of this year. It’s better than nothing, but it won’t be enough.
The Indian capital has the dubious accolade of being regularly-cited as the most polluted city in the world, with air pollution causing thousands of excess deaths each year. While it might be easy to blame this on increased vehicle use, dirty industries or a growing population, the truth is that Delhi is a toxic pollutant punchbowl with lots of different ingredients.
Delhi’s landscape, weather, energy consumption culture, and growing urban population combines to elevate concentrations of air pollutants, including the especially harmfulultrafine particles. I recently published a study with colleagues from the UK and India looking at the factors behind Delhi’s air pollution issues. We were interested in why the city’s air is so much worse than in coastal megacities in India and elsewhere.
Coastal cities such as Mumbai have at least a chance to “replace” smog with relatively unpolluted sea breezes, whereas there are limited avenues for flushing away polluted air in landlocked Delhi. In fact, the regions surrounding the capital are sometimes even more polluted than the city itself. Most of Delhi’s brick kilns, for example, are actually found in upwind areas surrounding the city.
Pollution from outside the city itself is down to the use of raw wood, agricultural or plastic waste as industrial fuel, the use of cow dung for cooking stoves and the widespread use of diesel generators due to unreliable infrastructure.
The city’s “breathability” is further inhibited by dense built-up areas. This is exacerbated by emissions from late evening and overnight traffic which tends to linger at ground level due to the much cooler air above it.
Pollution intensifies during winter when farmers burn off husks from paddy fields upwind of Delhi. The very light wind speed and colder winter season leads to stable atmospheric conditions that let pollution hang around at “breathing” height.
What can Delhi do about it?
The city’s alternate-day car ban, where vehicles with odd-numbered plates are only allowed to drive on odd dates and vice versa, is intended to keep 20% of cars off the road. After exemptions for women drivers, VIPs, emergency vehicles, disabled drivers and so on, this is equivalent to about 6% of Delhi’s total vehicles.
Reports are thus far divided on its effectiveness. Some point to increased pollution levels on January 1 compared with December 31 while others show a marginal decrease. We’ll have to wait and see.
But expectations may be too high. Even in the best case scenario the concentration of polluting particles in the city’s air would only be halved. “Only”? Well Delhi needs a staggering 30-fold reduction to meet the WHO’s safety limits.
Some of the confusion over whether “pollution” levels increased, decreased or remained unchanged is because reports aren’t clear about whether they refer to large or small particulate matter.
This car ban may help cut emissions of the smallest particles because combustion of fuel in vehicles produces these directly. However, it’s highly unlikely that it will help with the larger particles (“PM10”), which come more from tyre wear and road dust flung back into the atmosphere, and less from tailpipe emissions. The 6,000 extra compressed natural gas busses introduced during this period to compensate for the banned cars easily will offset the road dust and tyre wear gains.
Delhi’s pollution problem won’t be seriously addressed until ultra-clean electric public transport becomes the norm and, more importantly, the city’s metro system is substantially expanded.
For now, however, people must be protected in whatever ways they can be. Simple remedies such as “greening” unpaved roadside areas through a natural or artificial grass canopy could possibly help in limiting coarse dust particles during dry and windy seasons. Natural measures, such as the development of wetlands and trees are also effective.
There is also a cultural context here. Even the best science and technology won’t reduce emissions and improve air quality by themselves. India must figure out how new developments fit into the country’s economic development, while raising awareness of public health risks and changing attitudes towards and regulation of poor quality fuels. It is a complicated, pick-and-mix set of problems that will prove difficult to combat without innovative, encompassing and quick action.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“This entire planet is our home. We are the only species that systematically destroy our own habitat.”- Marianne Williamson
“One person alone cannot save the planet’s biodiversity, but each individual’s effort to encourage nature’s wealth must not be underestimated.”- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Pollution prevention is a major global concern because of the harmful effects of pollution on a person’s health and on the environment. Environmental pollution comes in various forms, such as: air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, etc.
Everyone is a stakeholder as we are all inhabitants of this one and only mother earth. Each person can contribute something to advance environmental pollution mitigation measures. Environmental protection means caring for our resources and subsequently for ourselves and ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come will have a better environment.
“If we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.” – Wangari Maathai
You and I should therefore accept personal responsibility for the success of the environmental protection programs of our respective community by cooperating and actively participating in making the atmosphere pollution free. Help stop pollution today. Although on an individual basis, we can help combat pollution in our own immediate environment, efficient control can be best institutionalized through legislation. Thus, most countries have already addressed the issue by passing some form of pollution prevention measures.
Also Read: Phytoremediation- Solution to Contaminated Environment
Averting the onset of pollution in any area; i.e. be it on air, water or land, could be a start and the simplest preventive solution to the problem. This calls for a conscientious effort to adopt good practices or habits by the people, the passage and the proper implementation of appropriate government laws and strict compliance especially by potential industrial pollutants.
If there are no pollutants, there will be no pollution. And yet, this is easier said than done. Certain bad habits are entrenched and industrial development somehow carries with it the concomitant burden of pollution. The cost to business and its commercial ramifications make this rather simple preventive approach quite complicated and more difficult to implement.
Everyone can help by self education and by adopting good and healthy practices. It is also important that we help raise awareness about the significance of environmental issues, their dire consequences and what can be done.
Also Read:Bioremediation- The New Age Cleansing Technology of the Environment
Every action or inaction of any person in regard to her or his surroundings has an effect- be it good, neutral or bad- on the environment. Nature already provides for our needs. Whatever we do to it gets back to us. If we are friends of the earth, it will also be friendly to us. By becoming aware and doing the right action, we choose to be part of the solution. What comes to mind now to serve as reminders include the following:
- Stop smoking or at least follow the “No Smoking” sign.
- Use unleaded gasoline in your cars.
- Keep your car properly maintained to keep it in good running condition to avoid smoke emissions.
- Share a ride or engage in car pooling.
- Instead of using your cars, choose to walk or ride a bicycle whenever possible. With this eco-friendly practice, you will also be healthier and happier by staying fit.
- Never use open fires to dispose of wastes.
- Adopt the 3Rs of solid waste management: reduce, reuse and recycle. Inorganic materials such as metals, glass and plastic; also organic materials like paper, can be reclaimed and recycled. This takes into account that the proven solution to the problem of proper waste management (especially in third world countries) is proper disposal (in waste bins for collection and not in the street where it could fall into drains), waste segregation and collection, and recycling.
- Start composting brown leaves in your yard and green scraps from your kitchen. It will reduce waste while improving your yard and garden soils.
- Reconnect with nature. Live green by using green power supplied abundantly and freely by wind and the sun. Hang your laundry to dry to minimize use of gas or electricity from your dryers. Enjoy fresh air from open windows to lessen the use of air conditioning system.
- Patronize local foods and goods. In this manner, transporting goods and foods prepared with GMOs which uses fuel from conventional energy sources will be minimized.
- Use eco-friendly or biodegradable materials instead of plastic which are made up of highly toxic substances injurious to your health.
- Create your green space. Value your garden. Plant more trees and put indoor plants in your homes. They clean the air, provide oxygen and beautify your surroundings. Thus, care for them and by protecting them, especially the big trees around and in the forest, you protect yourself and your family, too.
- Have a proper waste disposal system especially for toxic wastes
- Take very good care of your pets and their wastes.
- Never throw, run or drain or dispose into the water, air, or land any substance in solid, liquid or gaseous form that shall cause pollution.
- Do not cause loud noises and unwanted sounds to avoid noise pollution.
- Do not litter in public places. Anti-litter campaigns can educate the populace.
- Industries should use fuel with lower sulphur content.
- Industries should monitor their air emissions regularly and take measures to ensure compliance with the prescribed emission standards.
- Industries should strictly follow applicable government regulations on pollution control.
- Organic waste should be dumped in places far from residential areas.
- Say a big “NO” to GMOs or genetically modified organisms. Genetically engineered crops are not only bad for the environment since they require massive amount of fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides; but GMO altered foods are also health risks and negatively impact farmers’ livelihood.
Breathing is life. We know that we will survive without food for several weeks and without water for few days, but without oxygen, we will die in a matter of minutes. The oxygen, the air we breathe sustains us. So, let us make today and everyday a good day for everyone. Allow the earth to have more clean air. Help control pollution.
Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn’t have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We’ve been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.
We must help fight Global Warming by doing the following steps:
- Plant more trees
- Don’t waste water
- Use cloth bag and don’t burn plastic
Also Read: Importance of National Ambient Air Quality Standards
Mr. Laxmi Prasad Boda is a B.com (Hons) third year student in the Indian Institute of Management and Commerce (IIMC), Hyderabad, India. He can be contacted at laxmiprasad330[at]gmail[dot]com.
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